Clean Energy Revenues Climbed 53% in 2008: Forecast Flat to Down for This Year

3/11/09Follow @xconomy

The global cleantech industry stayed on a bull run despite a shaky economy in 2008, but the momentum is bound to slow down this year. That was the key finding from a report released yesterday by Portland, OR-based Clean Edge, a consulting firm.

The three major clean energy sectors—solar photovoltaics, wind power, and biofuels—saw their combined revenues climb to $115.9 billion last year, a 53 percent boost from $75.8 billion in the previous year, according to Clean Edge’s annual report on industry trends. A decade from now, the firm predicts that the industry will triple again. But not without some pain along the way, starting this year.

“Clean energy industry revenues will be level or down slightly in 2009,” says Ron Pernick, Clean Edge co-founder and managing director, on a conference call yesterday with reporters. With IPOs nonexistent, tight credit markets, a global recession, and at least a few months before the federal stimulus plan makes an impact, “2009 will be a year to get through,” Pernick says.

One of the factoids from the 22-page report that caught my eye: Wind power is the leading clean energy sector, with $51.4 billion in global revenues last year, followed by biofuels with $34.8 billion, and solar power at $29.6 billion.

Once you get past all the facts about the macroeconomic trends, this report included five specific trends to watch for in the years to come. Here they are:

“The grid goes online.” Clean Edge envisions more integration of information technology and energy this year, with all sorts of appliances like commercial refrigerators and residential washing machines being connected through the Internet to make them more efficient. (Seattle-based V2Green, acquired last year by GridPoint, was cited as a leader in this sub-sector.)

“Technologies Save Clean Energy for a Rainy (or Calm) Day.” The facts that the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine—yet people need consistent juice—mean that someone needs to figure out how to better store energy for rainy days. The market for grid energy storage is worth an estimated $2.4 billion. One of the key headlines in 2008 came out of Oregon’s Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center, which assisted Oregon State University researchers in getting a $725,000 grant from the Bonneville Power Administration to research storing power from wind turbines.

“New Clean Energy Markets Emerge Around the Globe.” Countries like Serbia and Aruba started joining the cleantech industry in 2008. Even in this category, the Northwest has a local connection, through Portland, OR-based Iberdrola Renewables’ acquiring a 1.6 gigawatt wind portfolio from a Romanian company.

“Grid Infrastructure Grabs the Spotlight.” This is the transmission problem—how do you get immense wind power from the Great Plains to the cities where most Americans live? Transmission capacity “is the biggest short to medium term barrier to the continued rapid growth of utility-scale wind or concentrating solar power,” said Tom Starrs, CEO of Solar Energy Ventures, a solar and smart grid consultant in Portland, according to the report.

“Micropower Shows it is No Small Thing.” Microturbines, solar cells, fuel cells, geothermal energy from small, regional “micropower” grids only provide 6 percent of U.S. electricity, but that share will continue to grow, according to Clean Edge. The report didn’t single out any Northwest links to this trend, although we identified several players in this space in our cleantech cluster stories from last week. One example: Seattle-based AltaRock Energy raised $26 million in August from Vulcan Capital and Google, among others, to create geothermal energy reservoirs rather than rely on having to discover natural heat-energy sources.

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